Fox News host Jesse Watters, whose primetime show is slated to take over the 8 p.m. slot, has successfully spun misinformation about renewable energy, decarbonization, and even public health initiatives into ubiquitous talking points that are now routinely used by climate change deniers.
Watters’ unrelenting posture of condescension falsely brands climate change mitigation as a corruption-laced grift to leech money from unsuspecting Americans, inviting fossil fuel shills and climate deniers to fill in the gaps of his outlandish theories. For Watters, the depths of the supposed lies from the environmental movement are only made more ironic by the triviality of the climate crisis and its consequences for his audience.
In the past year, Watters doubled down on feeding this delusion:
- Watters said that global warming is “more about corporate propaganda. They’re just saying, ‘You have to buy, or you’re going to die.’” He continued, “You got to get a new car; you got to get solar panels; you got to get a new stove. Who do you think has the money? They get the money and our prices go up.” [Fox News, The Five, 2/1/23]
- In a segment on gas stoves Watters said, “They’re trying to force their green industrial revolution on us, whether we want it or not. Seems like this is just a ploy to get them to buy more stuff the Democrats are selling.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 1/10/23]
- Before an interview with renewable energy opponent Michael Schellenberger, Watters said that “climate change hysteria” is “all cash”: “It’s all a ruse. So what’s the climate hysteria really about? It’s all cash…The climate stuff sounds to me like corporate America’s making us buy new stuff, and then making us feel guilty for not buying it.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 1/3/23]
- Watters claimed that CNN modeling sea level rise of New York City is “just to scare us into paying more taxes to the government to fight global warming.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 2/16/22]
- In a segment where he claimed voters don’t care about climate change, he said, “Certain parts of the world will get a tiny bit warmer, but the United States will do just fine.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 7/20/22]
- Using a popular climate change denier talking point, Watters insisted that, “Nowhere though have experts been more wrong than on climate change.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 4/12/22]
Consequently, his show, Jesse Watters Primetime, has been a boon to various bad actors and industry executives in their efforts to hinder an economy-wide transition away from fossil fuels by vilifying wind farms without evidence.
Watters unleashed a deluge of misinformation about offshore wind and whales
Watters was seemingly the first major TV news network host to parrot misinformation peddled by a partially fossil fuel-funded campaign against offshore wind projects on the east coast. Watters’ segments on offshore wind farms along the east coast claimed they were responsible for dozens of whale deaths in New York and New Jersey. This became a recurring talking point used by right-wing media and conservative politicians to slow renewable energy development and shape public opinion about offshore wind.
On January 11, Watters platformed a fossil fuel industry-funded envoy flimsily disguised as an “ocean advocate” for Protect Our Coast NJ. His guest blamed recent whale deaths in New Jersey on offshore wind development. Notably, Protect Our Coast NJ and another group, Save Our Beach View, were created with the help of the libertarian think tank the Caesar Rodney Institute, which has a history of hostility toward climate and environmental policies. The institute has also received funding from the fossil fuel industry.
In the following weeks, Fox News followed Watters’ lead and aired numerous segments insinuating that the recent deaths of whales across New York and New Jersey beaches were caused by the development of offshore wind turbines.
The influence of Watters’ segments extended to Facebook. Media Matters looked at the most popular Facebook posts mentioning offshore wind energy from Jan 1 to March 1, and found that a clip from the segment mentioned above was included in the most popular post on Facebook during that time period, garnering 19,500 interactions at the time of the study’s publication.
- Watters complained that New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is giving wind company Orsted a tax break to build “the same windmills that kill our whales.” “Murphy’s using federal funds to give a billion-dollar tax break to a Danish wind company to build windmills off the Jersey coast. The same windmills that kill our whales. And destroy the fishing industry. And the view. All because he wants to go green.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 7/11/23]
- In an interview with climate change denier Patrick Moore, who falsely claims to be the co-founder of Greenpeace, Watters said that wind turbines are “not good for the Jersey shore, for the Atlantic Ocean, and, as you said, it's not great for consumers either”: “As whales are being massacred by green tech, Greenpeace has nothing to say? ... Why aren't they chaining themselves to windmills demanding they come down? They’re just sitting in their air-conditioned offices, feet up, as the whale population drops?” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 2/1/23]
- In the same episode, Watters said, “A lot of people think construction for these big windmill projects is just slaughtering these whales.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 2/1/23]
- Watters falsely claimed that “experts” think offshore wind farms are killing whales: “Last month, six whales have all washed up dead on the Jersey Shore. … Something unusual is happening to these whales. Maybe this has something to do with it. New Jersey is preparing to build massive wind farms right off the coast. And the whales are paying the price probably, these experts are saying these projects are killing these whales.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 1/11/23]
Watters excels at stoking right-wing culture war outrage
Watters has escalated efforts to fearmonger over various initiatives meant to update household appliances like gas stoves, washing machines, and even ovens at New York City pizza shops. Watters encapsulates the type of coverage that has proven to be immensely successful at mobilizing right-wing outrage and placing the blame for imaginary problems squarely on policies meant to combat climate change.
In June, alongside a plethora of other right-wing influencers, Watters insisted that New York City Mayor Eric Adams and the New York Department of Environmental Protection were planning to eliminate authentic New York pizza.
The story was false. Watters and other Fox News hosts fabricated it based on a New York Post article about a new rule asking pizza shops to install smoke scrubbers when using older coal and wood-fired ovens.
One far-right activist, Scott LoBaido, stood in front of City Hall throwing pizzas as a publicity stunt. Watters had LoBaido, who has organized with the Proud Boys, on his show and called him “a hero.” Watters has attacked and distorted other policies related to climate change adaptation that could have any minor impact on the general public in order to convince Fox viewers they are victims of climate change policy rather than climate change impacts.
- Watters met up with Florida Gov. and 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis at a pizza shop in New York City to complain about the non-existent effort to “ban coal-fired pizza ovens” because the city thinks “they’re causing global warming.” DeSantis said, “When they went after gas stoves, we just made gas stoves tax free in Florida, no sales tax. We will do something similar for these coal-fired ovens.” He added, “You have an itch on the left, they want to control behavior.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 6/29/23]
- Watters claimed that New York City Mayor Eric Adams wants to “split up the beautiful marriage between pizza and coal-fired ovens. He is floating the idea of banning restaurants from using wood and coal ovens because that is what is going to save the environment," Watters continued. “So the vegan mayor thinks that cooking a pizza for two minutes in a coal oven is going to destroy the planet. Wrong. … What are we supposed to do? Microwave the pizza? It is going to crush small business and it’s going to crush everybody who loves good pizza.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 6/27/23]
- In response to a study looking at how thinner, warmer air could lead to more home runs, Watters accused liberals of ruining baseball: “Now liberals want to ruin the best part of baseball. A bunch of scientists are blaming climate change for the rise in dingers. … So home runs in recent years didn't have to do with the juiced balls, better strength and conditioning, better scouting or analytics, it's about the weather, guys. So sorry Aaron Judge, you broke the home run record because it gets hotter in July now.“ [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 4/14/23]
- Discussing the Biden administration’s investment in electrification, Watters claimed that electric cars and appliances will “not change the Earth’s temperature.” “They are forcing us to get a vaccine, to wear masks, enough already with the forcing. Let us choose what we want to do. But light bulbs, don't get me started. The gas stoves, don't get me started. … It is not going to lower the Earth's temperature at all. All it does is make the donors happy because this is a religion to them, and it makes my guys in Detroit happy because they sell these things, and we pay for half of it. It is the taxpayers subsidizing this green revolution.” [Fox News, The Five, 4/12/23]
- Watters suggested that climate advocates’ effort to ban gas stoves is an attack on progress while relying on a familiar Fox narrative that equates climate action with infringement on personal liberties: “Something Primetime is noticing is a relentless attack on progress. The internal combustion engine, natural gas, nuclear power, bottled water and even medicine. … Why would people want your life to be more difficult and more expensive?” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 2/1/22]
Watters weaves racism into his environmental monologues
Staying true to his roots as an alumnus of The O’Reilly Factor, and taking cues from Tucker Carlson, Watters wove casual racism into his monologues on environmental issues.
On that show, Watters was known for conducting racist ambush interviews. In an infamous 2016 segment, he went to New York City’s Chinatown and asked people if they knew karate, as well as asked them, “Am I supposed to bow to say hello?" The segment was roundly condemned as being disgraceful and offensive. Watters brings this same energy to discussions mocking environmental justice in an apparent attempt to justify the West’s role in climate degradation. He also launched personal attacks against Biden administration officials who play significant roles in climate and energy policy — particularly women of color — in an overtly racist way.
- Attacking a trip that Vice President Kamala Harris took to Ghana, he accused her of being “the black face of American colonialism.”: “Everything to power the Green New Deal with. Is Kamala Harris the black face of American colonialism? Well, she is there for the lithium and cobalt. The mother load is in the Congo, and it's being mined by children as young as four.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 3/27/23]
- Claimed that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is only in that position because “she’s Indian American”: “The salsa maker, Deb Haaland, she's in charge of the Interior, she’s also a basket weaver and probably the dumbest woman in the cabinet and that's saying a lot, has no idea of the type of rare Earth minerals we're sitting on in this country. She doesn't even care. She's an Indian American; that's why she was put at Interior.” [Fox News, The Five, 3/30/23]
- Dismissed the idea of environmental racism: “The Chinese are the ones polluting everybody. They are the most racist, statistically.” [Fox News, The Five, 3/10/23]
- Suggested that the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, was an intentional attempt to fight racism by “spilling toxic chemicals on poor people.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 2/14/23]
- During coverage of COP27, Watters said the U.S. should not have to help poor nations pay for climate change adaptation because “we industrialized first.” He complained that the European Union should not have put pressure on the U.S. to agree to a deal, saying, “How many world wars have we bailed the Europeans out of? And then they go shiv us in the kidneys?” Finally, he said that the U.S. should not help Pakistan recover from catastrophic flooding because “they kept Bin Laden there for a decade.” [Fox News, The Five, 11/21/22]
Watters dismisses established climate science
Watters goes out of his way to push climate change denial during extreme weather events, at the moments when the reality of climate change is most evident. As other TV news outlets are increasingly making the connection between heatwaves, wildfires, floods, and climate change, Watters often seeks to do the opposite and frames accurate coverage and crucial climate solutions as destructive and alarmist. He has even railed against public health advisories during wildfires, encouraging viewers to put themselves and their families in danger.
- While several major American cities were experiencing hazardous air quality as a result of wildfires in Canada, Watters said that “it’s normal” for the Northeastern United States to be engulfed in smoke: “So this is normal and what they're doing is they're preying on ignorance. Not everybody knows that burning forests from Canada has blacked out North America dozens and dozens of times over the last 300 years. They're banking on people not knowing that.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 6/8/23]
- Watters insisted that there are fewer wildfires now than 100 years ago to dismiss the role of climate change and prop up the forest management argument: “You might be surprised to find out over the last 100 years, there have been less wildfires, not more. The Wall Street Journal says in the early 1900s about 4% of land worldwide burned every year by 2021 that was down to 2.5%. So instead of obsessing over climate change, they should take a look at forest management.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 6/7/23]
- Attacked government officials for suggesting masking to protect against wildfire smoke and said he “didn’t listen” and doesn’t care about these advisories: “Everybody is saying stay inside, but I didn't listen,” Watters said at the top of his show over the chyron “Jesse Braves ‘Hazardous’ Air Quality.” “Why? Because I love you,” he continued. “I came into the city for you tonight. I braved the smoke so you could watch your favorite show. The air quality is hazardous. ‘Worse than 9/11.’ But, I said, I don't care. The show must go on.” Later in the segment, Watter said, “Other politicians went on TV and told us to quarantine like the good old days. … COVID, stay home and wear a mask. Smoke bomb, stay home, wear a mask. Elections, stay home, wear a mask. Nuke strike, stay home, wear a mask. The government's prepared for anything.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 6/7/23]
- Claimed that rain bombs aren’t real because Al Gore said they were: “Never trust an angry rich guy … And what's a rain bomb? Meteorologists are supposed to coin terms like that to scare viewers for ratings. What's next, snow nukes? Every ocean I have ever swam in has been freezing.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 1/18/23]
- During a heatwave in California, Watters attacked California Gov. Gavin Newsom for his response to the heatwave: “The facts here are pretty clear and the science tells us that the biggest threat to the environment isn't climate change; it's ridiculous climate change policies.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 9/9/22]
- Watters also completely ignored the real impact of climate change on extreme heat, proclaiming that “the environment’s better than ever" because the polar bear population doubled and coral reefs are growing again. [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 9/7/22]
Watters takes every opportunity to vilify climate activists no matter how ridiculous the accusation
Right-wing media have sought to frame climate protesters engaging in non-violent direct action as aggressive, violent, and mentally ill, in order to make excuses for state efforts to criminalize civil disobedience. Watters is no exception, insisting that these activists are dangerously influential — even though most of their demands have not been met — and that their goal is to “bring society back to the stone age.” He has likened climate activism to a religion that is being forced on the general public, while working for a company that broadcasts weekly Christian nationalist sermons on one of its channels.
- Watters mocked Greta Thunberg for an apocalyptic statement she never made: “Got some bad news. We're all about to die. You heard that right. The world is ending. It was a hell of a run. Apparently, humanity only has like four and a half hours left until we are all extinct. Nothing we can do about it. Greta Thunberg said so. Five years ago Greta shared this bold prediction, quote, A top climate scientist is warning that climate change will wipe out all of humanity unless we stop using fossil fuels over the next five years.’” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 6/22/23]
- Watters claimed without evidence that protesters trying to save Atlanta’s Weelaunee Forest, which is slated to be the site of a new police training facility, were “plotting to kill cops” and that they were “all card-carrying members of Antifa.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 12/16/22]
- After Alaska’s snow crab population collapsed due in part to climate change causing a decrease in seasonal ice cover, Watters blamed “climate crazies” saying they were “holding the crabs hostage.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Tonight, 10/18/22]
- While discussing climate change protests with big oil shill Alex Epstein, Watters said “the logical conclusion” to climate activism is “human sacrifice.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 4/11/22]
The shake-up at Fox News will change little about the channel’s constant stream of lies. Ultimately, Watters uses similar climate denial talking points as numerous other hosts, but he has been able to wield them in a particularly damaging way that resonates with Fox’s audience and builds out the channel’s dangerous brand of misinformation.